CHAPEL HILL -- The ongoing internal and external investigations of the University of North Carolina football program came to an abrupt end Thursday as the NCAA acknowledged that both prongs of inquiry, the first into alleged "improper agent contact and inappropriate benefits" and the second into to alleged academic improprieties, were both the results of gross misunderstandings.
"Several UNC players," said Lissa Broome, UNC's former faculty athletics representative to the NCAA, "readily admitted to 'improper academic assistance' when being interviewed by NCAA investigators -- but we failed to clarify that this was not assistance received but assistance given."
Further, when UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin traveled to a party in Miami, supposedly sponsored by a registered agent for professional athletes, it had been assumed that when Austin had said that "a financial contribution was involved," that that meant that the agent had funded his attendance at the party. In neither case, the NCAA now realizes were the original assumptions of improper conduct valid, according to Broome.
In an exclusive interview over dinner at Provence in Carrboro, the embattled Austin explained how the misunderstandings arose -- and what actually happened.
Austin began by saying, "Jeanine [Editor's note: This is apparently the previously unnamed tutor implicated in the investigation into improper academic assistance] was struggling in her graduate-level English class, and we (teammate Greg Little and Austin) felt, given all the help she had given us in organizing our study time and properly allocating our efforts preparing for examinations, that the least we could do would be to help her in return."
"Writing comes easy for me, as is evidenced by the 2400 tweets I posted on my Twitter account before Coach (Butch Davis) asked me to shut it down," said Austin, "so it was not hard for me to help her get off the schneid with her writer's block."
"Now, we didn't write the paper for her; we just helped with some ideas and some clever phrasing," said Austin. "It is clear from the spelling, if nothing else, that she didn't just cut and paste verbatim passages from my work," Austin said.
"I actually don't know that much about medieval characterizations of chivalry -- but I do know knights had bling. That I do know about. Greg and I have got the Black Knight thing going on, for real," Austin added as he straightened the collar on his meticulously pressed pink shirt.
As for receiving assistance from current pro and former UNC football player Kentwan Balmer this summer, Austin said, "I sold two of my nicest gold neck chains to pay for trainers to work with Kentwan in the off-season. We (Austin and former UNC player Cam Thomas) just came along to help guide the workouts. Kentwan was struggling from paycheck to paycheck at the time. If helping a friend is an NCAA violation, then so be it."
Austin, as he fiddled with his mesclun and arugula mix, also explained the purpose of the hundred or so texts and phone calls made last fall between recently resigned associate head football coach John Blake and Gary Whichard, the agent implicated in the now discredited accusations against the UNC players.
"A lot of the phone calls between Coach and Gary were to make sure that I didn't cross any lines that the NCAA has established for contact between amateur athletes and their professional counterparts," said Austin.
"Gary really knows exactly where all those lines are," added Austin.
Austin said he and Little did make a trip to Miami, but it was a field trip as an applied component of Austin's oenological studies, according to Austin. In addition to his regular full course load in the spring, Austin was enrolled in a correspondence course in Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration entitled "Wines and Spirits," which develops finer aesthetic appreciation for various libations, and which was highly recommended to him by several former UNC athletes, including football player Julius Peppers and basketball player Rasheed Wallace.
“I did attend a South Beach affair," said Austin, "but only while acting as a volunteer sommelier for this educational event. I personally brought along a full case of wine with an array of lesser-known Finger Lake appellations, but drank only two small carafes.”
"I know I am a big boy [Editor's note: The official UNC football roster lists Austin as 6'3" and 310 pounds] but I'm sorta the opposite of that scrawny little Kobayashi dude who can eat 50 hot dogs and he's just getting started," said Austin as he sipped his pinot noir. "With me, a couple of tasting glasses of petit chablis and I'm like totally tipsy and tweeting the stupidest stuff you ever read," said Austin.
Gary D. Gaddy noticed that the LSU game on Saturday night really went south for UNC right after Marvin Austin was featured on the screen.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday September 10, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy